Naval and Maritime Book Reviews by Rob Jerrard

Books from Pen and Sword Books Limited ( page2 )



Cromwell’s Wars at Sea

Edition: 1st

Author: John Barratt

ISBN: 1844154599

Publishers:

Price £19.99

Publication Date: 2006

The 200 years that separate the navy of Drake's day from that of Nelson were critical for the development of Britain's sea power, and the decade of the Commonwealth, of Cromwell's rule, is one of the turning points in the story. In the aftermath of a disastrous civil war and the execution of Charles I, the navy fought to defend the frail republic against the rivalry and hostility of other European nations and to extend British influence across the globe. In this fascinating reassessment of a decisive phase in the growth of British seapower, John Barratt shows how Cromwell's navy confronted the threats that came against it during a decade of almost continuous naval warfare, against the Royalists, the Dutch and the Spanish. At the same time he describes in detail the naval organization of the day and the rapid expansion of the service in the early 1650s, as well as the ships and the seamen who manned them.



Reviewers Wanted

Would you be interested in reviewing books for this website? If you are interested in providing reviews in about 600/800 words within 3 months or sooner then please contact me by e-mail at robjerrard@aol.com providing a small CV and your interests.

For an indication of what is required please see this site, which contains hundreds of examples. "Rob Jerrard's Royal Naval & Maritime Book Reviews" welcomes all categories of reviewers, however if possible I want to know a little about you before I send out an book. Reviewers are normally sent a free copy of the book, however if you already own a book a wish to submit a review it would be considered. In order to assist with costs you will have to agree to pay the postage of any book from my address to you.



Reviewer Wanted

Would you be interested in reviewing this book? (The Book Above) If you are interested in providing a review in about 600/800 words within 3 months or sooner then please contact me by e-mail at robjerrard@aol.com providing a small CV and your interest in this particular book. I do ask reviewers to agree to review within 3 months and pay the postage, books not reviewed should be returned.

For an indication of what is required please see this site, which contains hundreds of examples. "Rob Jerrard's Royal Navy Website" which currently attracts up to 1,200 visitors per day welcomes all categories of reviewers.



The Fighting Captain

Edition: Pen & Sword Military Classics

Author: Alan Burn

ISBN: 1-84415-439-4

Publishers: Pen & Sword

Price £8.99

Publication Date: 2006

Publisher’s Title Information


It is not generally realised how close, how very close, the toll on our Atlantic convoys from 1940 until early 1943 came to bringing Britain to her knees.  Without the convoys no supplies; without supplies certainly -no Second Front.  Captain Frederic Walker RN devised and employed tactics which were the only sure means of combating and ultimately defeating the U-boat Wolf packs, but it was only when the Lords of the Admiralty came to employ these tactics that the U-boats were finally defeated.

No one did more to regain control of the North Atlantic than Captain Walker.  His relentless battle with the U-boat Wolf packs, amounting almost to a personal duel with Admiral Donitz, is an epic saga which has long deserved a larger page in the story of our nation's history, though he did achieve the rare distinction of winning the DSO and three bars.

Alan Burn, who served under Walker, brilliantly recaptures the feeling of those dramatic days - the sheer bloody hell of the Atlantic weather, the ever-present menace of the lurking U-boats, but above all the quite remarkable and indomitable spirit which Walker managed to inspire in all who served in the ships under his command.

Not only the citizens of Liverpool, where Walker is still revered as a local hero, but all who hold, freedom dear will appreciate this well­ merited tribute to a largely unsung hero who did as much as any man to preserve that freedom.


Author’s Introduction

Many people who read this book will have enjoyed the hospitality of the ships of the Royal Navy on Navy Days and on their visits to ports throughout the world in the course of their duties.

They will have been struck by the absence of portholes or indeed any openings through which the modern sailor can look out to the seas around him or to the coasts along which he is sailing.  Only from the narrow slits of the enclosed bridge can the outside world be seen.  The visitors will have seen the Commanding Officer's chair in the Operations Room, where he can sit in the centre of a platform insulated from vibration and survey a mass of instruments and screens which enable him to make the instant technical decisions which are vital in modern warfare.  From this position, the whole operation of the ship is controlled.

The engine rooms are not manned when the ship is at Action Stations.  The great brass telegraphs which conveyed the orders to the waiting stokers in the boiler rooms have gone.  The weapons are directed and fired, and in most cases are even loaded and reloaded, by remote control.  As they walk round the deck the visitors will have seen many notices, 'DANGER. THIS WEAPON MAY ROTATE AND FIRE WITHOUT WARNING'.

They will have been amazed at the mass of aerials attached to the tripod mast, some static and some rotating day and night, even when in harbour.  Instead of a substantial wooden wheel with spokes to steer the ship, the coxswain uses a little joystick, but most of the time the course steered is automatically controlled, like an aircraft.  To the old sailor, the only familiar pieces of equipment will be the compass repeaters and the signal lanterns, but he will be told that today these are very much the last resort for communication.  If they should dare to touch them, they will find that their operating handles will be heavy and unresponsive from lack of use.

The modern frigate leaving Devonport in the dusk is a dark and menacing sight.  Except for the bare minimum of navigation lights required of all ships by International Law, no glimmer of light can be seen from the grey hull as she eases her way past Devil's Point and down the deep-water channel to the open sea.

Captain Walker's ships were commanded from open bridges with no protection from the elements.  The armament was manned, loaded and served by seamen exposed to spray, green water and sometimes snow and sleet.  The stokers and engine-room crews worked below the waterline, behind double-clamped water and airtight doors. In action, Walker and his commanding officers were rarely absent from their crowded open bridges, except for visits to the plot in the wheelhouse to consult the navigator.  In darkness, even these visits had to be kept to a minimum, for fear of losing night vision.

On many occasions, Walker and his key men transferred at sea from Starling to other ships of the Group.  The only way to do this was by the old Montague Whaler under oars, pulled by five seamen, with a leading seaman at the helm.  These sea boats were hoisted and lowered by manpower alone, with all hands tailing on to the falls.

Today's ocean racer has much better electronic navigation equipment and foul-weather gear than was available even to the Royal Navy in the Second World War, but otherwise will have no difficulty in imagining these conditions which were little different from those in which he now pursues his perverted sport.


REVIEW

We are told quite correctly that it is not generally known how close, how very close, the toll of our Atlantic Convoy from 1940-1943 came to bringing Britain to her knees.  This is the story of Captain Frederick John Walker CB, DSO with 3 Bars, RN. 

It is a story that has been told before.  In 1953 Evan Brothers Limited published 'Walker RN’ by Terence Robertson.  It was reprinted many times up until 1965, with many paperback editions following that.  Like Alan Burn, Terence Robertson also served on convoy work in the Atlantic as an RNR Officer. 

In his acknowledgement the author of this book names the people who have brought this latest book to light - most of them served in ships under Captain Walker.  Since he lists 89 people in all, this makes it a very authentic record of the events.

Albeit not in wartime, I have experienced an open bridge at sea in cold weather.  I served in HMS Aisne.  The author in his introduction compares this to a modern ship and quite rightly points out that Captain Walker’s ships were commanded from open bridges.

Ranged against our escorts were the U-Boats and 40,000 served at sea in them, 28,000 becoming casualties.  Captain Walker has long been remembered as one of our most successful escort Captains.  Only three of the score of warships that came under his command were lost.

Before his sea appointments Walker was appointed Staff Officer Operations to Vice-Admiral B.H. Ramsay based at Dover.  Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay, Walker's boss, was Flag-Officer, Dover, in charge not only of the evacuation of the B.E.F, via the ports of the Lowlands, Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne, but also of the demolition of the ports of the Lowlands, and the provision of naval covering fire.

The Author says that it was beyond the scope of this book to attempt to describe this evacuation, but the effect on our already depleted force of destroyers and escorts, and so on the Battle of the Atlantic, was devastating. Of the 338,000 troops brought out, 103, 000 were carried by the destroyers. The Royal Navy paid for this by the loss of another sloop and nine destroyers sunk, and nineteen more damaged.  So, in these two months, forty-seven escorts were put out of action, of which the effect is best described in the words of the official historian.

'The Destroyers led the operation with selfless gallantry and suffered most heavily. And those losses were felt grievously during the anxious months that followed, when every flotilla vessel was needed in the struggle for control of the ocean communications.’

The last ship to leave Dunkirk at 0340 on 4 June was the destroyer Shikari, which Walker had commanded in 1933.

We are told that Walker was appointed to command HMS Stork, a Black Swan Class Sloop in September 1941 (most of the records I have consulted list HMS Stork (L81) as a Bittern Class Sloop, designed in fact to be a disarmed survey ship, launched 21 April 1936 and scrapped at Troon 3 June 1958.  Her builder was Denny.  Of the other ships Deptford was a Grimsby Class Sloop (L53) and Convolvulus, Gardenia, Marigold, Pentstemon, Samphire and Vetch were all conventional Flower Class Sloops, as opposed to the later modified Flower Class).

It is interesting that reading Naval books can suddenly move you back in time to another age, on Page 25 it reads at the fifth paragraph, 'Stanley’s (HMS) masthead lookout wiped off the lenses of his standard Barr & Stroud binoculars for the hundredth time, they weighed three and a quarter pounds but they seemed to double their weight every five minutes.  He tried resting his elbows on the rim of the crow’s nest.  It didn’t work’.  Only ex-seamen would appreciate that memory!  HMS Stanley was sunk by U-574 on 19 December 1941, but then HMS Stork sunk the U-Boat.  Twenty-eight of Stanley’s crew survived.  I hope the masthead lookout was amongst them. 

Appendix 1 lists all the U-Boats sunk by Captain Walker’s ships, it also lists our losses, Stanley, Audacity, Woodpecker and Kite.  Appendix 2 gives a history of the ships involved, viz Escort vessels, Flower Class Corvettes, Hunt Class Destroyers, modified Black Swan Class Sloops of the Second Support Group viz Starling, Wild Goose, Kite, Magpie, Wren, Woodpecker, and Woodcock.  Appendix 3 - Close Escorts for convoys.  After that we have Appendix 4 - U-Boats, Appendix 5 the Asdics System and Appendix 6 the 'Creeping Attack’.

For beginners to WWII anti-submarine warfare, it might be best to read the Appendices first; even old hands might employ this method if the memory is a bit rusty.

Captain Walker was loved and respected by his men.  After his sudden death, at the funeral service in Liverpool Cathedral on 11 July 1944 Admiral Sir Max Horton said at the conclusion of his epitaph "Not dust nor the light weight of stone, but all the sea of the Western Approaches will be his tomb".  Of Walker Max Horton said, "In my opinion no single officer at sea did more than Frederick John Walker to win this battle, (Battle of the Atlantic) the hardest and longest drawn out of this war".

This book should stand as a tribute to all the men who fought this battle.  If reading this and Terence Robertson’s 'Walker RN’ inspires you to want to know more, you could try to obtain a copy of 'Max Horton and the Western Approaches’ by Rear Admiral WS Chalmers published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1954, where these events are well covered.


Rob Jerrard



Bomb Alley, Falkland Islands 1982 - Aboard HMS Antrim at War

Edition: 1st

Author: David Yates

ISBN: 1844154173 Hardback

Publishers: Pen and Sword

Price £19.99

Publication Date: 15th September 2006

Publisher’s Title Information


This is the untold story of the Falklands War as experienced below deck on one of the most important ships to be despatched to the South Atlantic.  It is a no holds barred account as seen through the eyes of a Royal Navy matelot.

HMS Antrim led Operation Paraquat to re-capture South Georgia, and then led the first attack in North Falkland Sound where she destroyed enemy defences in the infamous Bomb Alley' or San Carols Water. During the largest air-sea battle since the Second World War, HMSAntrim came under repeated attack and was struck by a bomb that destroyed her defensive missile system, but through pure chance, did not explode, and remained on board wedged in the ‘aft heads'.

Other ships were not so lucky, HMS Sheffield, HMS Ardent, HMS Antelope and HMS Coventry were all sunk, together with the Cunard container ship Atlantic Conveyor. Many more were badly damaged by Exit missiles and other air and land based weapons - most notably, RFA Sir Galahad and RFA Sir Tristram.  All told some 255 British and over 700 Argentine men were killed in the three month conflict.


The Author

David 'Rowdy' Yates originates from Waltham St Lawrence near Reading, he joined the Royal Navy in 1976, leaving the service as a Warrant Officer in 2000.  He worked for two years offshore in the North Sea.


The Forward

David Yates was born on the banks of the Thames at Taplow in September 1957 and was raised a son of Berkshire in the leafy village of Waltham St Lawrence, in the Thames Valley between Windsor, Ascot, Henley and Maidenhead.

Bored with country life and yearning for global travel, at eighteen, David joined the Royal Navy at HMS Ganges in March 1976.  In a first stint of service, as 'Rowdy' Yates he served on HMS Salisbury and then HMS Antrim, where he saw active service during the Falklands War of 1982.  He left the Navy in March 1985 to pursue a career as a Catering Manager, but when invited to return, rejoined in 1987.

He again visited the Falklands on HMS Nottingham in 1988, and saw further active service on HMS Exeter in the Gulf War of 1991.  Suffering from ill-health resultant from this conflict, he eventually left the Royal Navy for a second and final time in 2000.

David's autobiographical account covers the period from his birth right up to his return from the Falklands War in 1982, where his earliest and last naval recollections were of fairground Laughing Sailors.  The book draws heavily upon the diary he maintained before and at the time of the war, the letters he wrote home, and the three large scrapbooks he produced on his return.

Most of the characters described in this book have been granted anonymity through the use of the enormous range of traditional ancient and modern nicknames used in the Royal Navy, a loose index of which is included.  However, not all names have been fictionalized. After all, who ever heard of a female British Prime Minister called 'Baggy Snatcher', or an American president named 'Ronnie Raygun'?

Apologies to anyone I offend in this book, but I had to record our actual feelings and sayings at the time.

The strong language used between the men on the lower deck on board was discouraged when ashore, and certainly never used in the presence of women - at least not in the Royal Navy in 1982. An extensive glossary is also included so that civvies can understand what we matelots were on about.



Skua!

The Royal Navy's Dive-Bomber

Edition: 1st

Author: Peter C Smith

ISBN: 978 1844 154555

Publishers:

Price £25 Hardback Illustrated, 272 Pages

Publication Date: 7th December 2006

Publisher’s Title Information


The Blackburn Skua was the first monoplane to be designed and built for the Royal Navy in the 1930's.  As a result of continued debate, it became a compromise between the Navy's desire for a carrier-based dive-bomber and the Air Ministry's preference for a hybrid able to perform in a limited fighter role. A Skua was the first British type to shoot down a fully confirmed Luftwaffe aircraft in World War II, but despite that accolade, early operations in Norway found the aeroplane woefully inadequate as a fighter.

As a dive-bomber, the Royal Navy put the design to good use from the outset of WWII. Skuas were involved with the hunt for the GraffSpee, the sinking of the major warship Konigsberg but suffered with great loss in an attack on the Schamhorst.  The type helped to keep the German advance at bay during the Dunkirk evacuation and attacked the Vichy French battleship Richelieu at Dakar in West Africa.  In the Mediterranean the Skua saw hard service at Mers-el-Kebir, fought to protect convoys to Malta and guided Hurricane reinforcements to the island. They also attacked the Italian fleet at the Battle of Spartivento in November 1940 and stood by to dive-bomb the German fleet at Brest harbour.  Their final duties were as trainers and target-towing aircraft in a role they continued to serve in until 1944.

This book relates how the final design was created, how the dive-bombing technique was developed and perfected by naval pilots and it traces the wartime operational career of the type including many first hand accounts.

The Author

Peter Smith is known to aviation and maritime history readers with over 65 previously published books.  Peter is working closely with those involved in the restoration project, being organised by The Fleet Air Arm and the Bodo Museum in Norway, to preserve the first Skua to' be recovered from Norway.


Author's FOREWORD

I have wanted to write this book for half a century. I have been researching and writing about dive-bombing and dive-bombers for most of that time and have written the definitive histories of every aircraft of that type, but not the Skua. It is not that this little aircraft did not interest me; indeed, she has fascinated me for all that period. Why no book then? Well, this is Britain, and in Britain we honour everyone and everything except our own. So my various publishers down the decades would happily publish the umpteenth book on the German Junkers Ju87 Stuka and the American Douglas Dauntless, but not the British Skua. They took more persuading for me to write the books on the Russian Petlyakov Pe-2 Peshka, the American North American A-34 Apache and Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, the Japanese Aichi D3A1/2 Val and even the Vultee A31/A35 Vengeance, American-built, British and Australian flown - but not the Skua. Even when the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton dragged the wreckage of a Skua from a Norwegian fiord and made a diorama of it, I could not get a hearing for her.

Quite why the only British-built and British-operated dive-bomber should be shunned when the others were favoured has always irked me. So, down the years I spoke to veteran flyers, delved in untouched files and asked questions. Much of what I discovered of the Skua story I used in other, more general, books on dive-bombers, but I always knew that the full story deserved to be told and needed to be told before it was too late and all first-hand knowledge had faded.

That marvellous man, 'Dickie' Rolph, who for many years was a rock and a guide in my Skua research, and to whom I confessed my frustration at this lack of intelligence in the publishing fraternity, once advised me, with the wisdom of age, 'Remember the story of Bruce and the spider ... don't give up'. Well Dickie, you are gone now, but I didn't give up, and here, thanks to an enlightened editor, Peter Coles, and a fearless publisher, Henry Wilson of Pen & Sword, here at last is the full story of the Royal Navy's only true dive-bomber and her achievements against the odds.

Peter C. Smith Riseley, Bedford, 2006


"The Bruce," Robert I, King of Scotland, after six successive defeats by the English armies, was a fugitive in a lonely hut, and there saw a spider try six times to cast his thread from one beam to another and succeed on the seventh try. Bruce took courage from the spider's perseverance, fought a seventh time, and won.


Review

The author tells us in his Foreword that he had wanted to write this book for half a century.  He quite correctly points out that he has written the definitive history of every aircraft of that type, but not the Skua.  Why not the Skua?  Well, it seems in Britain we honour everyone and everything except our own and the power lay with the publishers.  The Skua was British built and British operated and I am pleased that the story has finally been told, and told in such detail by an author who has written 57 books previously.  As with other books by this author, the story is told fully and is the definitive record with many excellent photographs, diagrams and appendices.

We gain an insight into this unique aircraft when we find that Appendix 1 lists her ‘Firsts’. 

In her career she notched up:

First - monoplane in Royal Naval service;

First - all-metal aircraft in Royal Naval service;

First - British aircraft to shoot down a Confirmed German aircraft in the Second World War;

First - aircraft in the world to sink a major warship by dive-bombing;

First - British aircraft to have a bomb-ejector fork for bomb to clear propeller in dive;

First - British aircraft with sleeve-valve engine;

First - British aircraft to feature Koffman starter gun for engine;

First - British aircraft to mount four Browning guns clear of prop. No CC gear;

First - British aircraft to feature two-speed propeller (two pitch positions);

First - and only aircraft to be fitted with anti-spin tail parachute;

First - British aircraft equipped with radio-homing beacon on new VHF;

First - British aircraft to have front gun reflector sight;

First - British aircraft fitted with oxygen bottles and supply lines.

The first five chapters cover the birth and production of the aircraft before Chapter 6 takes us 'Into Battle'.  The third 'first' records the  'First Blood' when:-

'During the period 25 to 26 September 1939, both No. 801 and No. 803 Squadrons were embarked aboard Ark Royal, which was operating in the North Sea. The Skuas were flying continuous patrols over the fleet.   A section of No. 803 Squadron's Skuas were launched when a Dornier 18 sighting was made.  Their target had the dubious distinction of becoming the first German aircraft to be destroyed by any British service in the Second World War. This aircraft fell to the Skuas of Lieutenant B S McEwen, with Petty Officer B M 'Horse' Seymour and Lieutenant C L G Evans, with Lieutenant W A Robertson. After a brisk chase and skirmish, she was finally shot down by ‘Horse’, a Telegraphist/Air Gunner (TAG), from the back of his aircraft. The German floatplane was forced down on the sea reasonably intact and stayed afloat until the destroyer HMS Somali closed with her and took off the crew before sinking her'.

The shooting down of the Dornier 18 is often cited as the first kill by a British Aircraft in World War II - In fact the first was by Sgt F A Letchford, an observer/gunner in a Fairy Battle Bomber of 88 Sqdn RAF on the 20th September 1939.  Sgt Letchford's claim was not confirmed straight away.  This presumably is why the author in this book correctly uses the term, ‘Confirmed’.

The book records very many of the actions in which the Skuas were evident.  It details the fate of many crew members, with lists giving an insight into losses such as Table 22 on Page 153.  In the attack on Scharnhorst, 13 June 1940, the Royal Navy effectively lost a whole squadron of highly trained veteran airmen when 8 Skuas were destroyed with 6 deaths plus (1 death from wounds and 9 captured). 

It wasn’t always the enemy - even in those days it could be friendly fire!  Unfortunately on 28 May 1940 2 Skuas were intercepted by a full squadron of 24 Spitfires, which immediately attacked them from astern, badly damaging both aircraft and reference is made to the account of Midshipman Hogg (Sub Lieutenant (A) Graham Angus Hogg DFC & Bar RNVR) ‘The Camouflaged Coward 1956’.  Sub Lieutenant Hogg is credited as having shot down 4 enemy aircraft in the air with 8 shared kills. 

There are extensive detailed footnotes with each chapter, which combined with an excellent Index makes this a valuable asset to any library where readers have an interest in Royal Naval aviation.  It covers the sinking of the Königsberg in unprecedented detail

The book is dedicated to the memory of Skua TAG Richard S 'Dickie' Rolph BEM, whose advice regarding getting this book published was "remember the story of Bruce and the spider...don't give up."

Rob Jerrard



The Cinderella Service

Author: Andrew Hendrie

ISBN: 1844153460

Publishers: Pen & Sword

Price £25

Publication Date: 2007


Publisher’s Title Information

This book reveals the vital contribution that RAF Coastal Command made to the Allies war effort. Although often referred to as the 'Cinderella Service' because by its nature, it did not gain the recognition it deserved and was overshadowed by Fighter and Bomber Commands and considering that it was not given priority in terms of aircraft and equipment, its wartime record was second to none. The two main roles of Coastal Command were anti-submarine work in the Atlantic and anti-shipping operations against enemy warships and merchant vessels. This work looks at every aspect of the command's work, equipment and aircraft and draws upon many first-hand accounts. Lengthy and comprehensive appendices cover Orders of Battle, Commanders, U boats sunk, ships sunk aircraft losses and casualties.


The Author’s Preface

In this book I have attempted to show the part played by Coastal Command in the Second World War. I have given emphasis to the two main roles of Coastal Command, namely its work in anti­submarine warfare in the Battle of the Atlantic, and the Command's anti-shipping operations against both warships and merchant vessels. Coastal's other roles, including meteorological flights, air-sea rescue, minelaying and photo-reconnaissance, have also been considered.

By the nature of such work, Coastal Command did not gain the recognition it deserved, and was overshadowed by Fighter and Bomber Commands, which generally were given priority in respect of aircraft and equipment.

As the prime needs of an air force in war were aircraft and armament, I devoted two chapters to those subjects, taking the view that some understanding of such technical aspects are essential for a proper appreciation of Coastal Command's work.

The book is based on the following primary sources: operational records of squadrons, the Command's records, and some Cabinet files. Additionally, I have corresponded with many Coastal Command veterans and interviewed others. The retrospective views of some of those former aircrew have been included.

My ‘research’ really began on 3 April 1939, when I joined the RAF for training as aircrew, but my wartime operational flying with Coastal Command began in February 1942 and ended in May 1945.  I therefore consider that this book, which I can claim was written from the inside, presents the subject by one who was actively involved.

The theme is that although Coastal Command was the ‘Cinderella’ in respect of aircraft, equipment and publicity, it surmounted those limitations and made a considerable contribution to the Allies' war effort.

Andrew Hendrie



Above us the Waves

The Story of Midget Submarines and Human Torpedoes

Edition: 2006 Paperback (First published by George G Harrop & Co Ltd 1953 Price 15s)

Author: CET Warren & James Benson

ISBN: 1844154408

Publishers: Pen & Sword Military Classics

Price £9.99

Publication Date: 2006


The pioneers of two-man torpedoes or 'chariots' were the Italian Navy.Following their attack on ships of the Royal Navy in Alexandria harbour in 1941, Winston Churchill wrote to General Ismay in 1942, "Please report what is being done to emulate the exploits of the Italians in Alexandria harbour and similar methods of this kind…. one would have thought we would be in the lead, please state the exact position." 

When it was decided to go ahead, 'volunteers were called for'. However, because revealing what was involved we would have informed the enemy, these volunteers were not told the nature of the task. Moreover to do so may have brought forth the wrong types - suicidal or death or glory boys, which was not what it was about, albeit there was a large risk of being taken prisoner. 

Naval divers had salvaged an Italian chariot after an abortive attack at Gibraltar and two men were chosen to form the teams - Commander GM Sladen and Commander WR Fell.   A more detailed account of the Italian operations can be found in 'The Frogmen' by Tom Waldron and James Gleeson, published in 1950 by Evan Bros Ltd.  Very many paperback editions were also published between 1954-1970 by  Pan books.  That book, 'The Frogmen' looked at the same subject matter with additional details of the work of Lt Commander LKP Crabb, OBE, GM, who served in the Royal Navy from 1939-1948.  He is remembered for the 1956 dive on the Russian cruiser Ordzhonikidze in which he lost his life - but that is another story, see “Commander Crabb - The Amazing Story of a Remarkable Man” by Marshall Pugh.

The first batch of ten Charioteers completely unaware of their destiny, assembled in Blockhouse (HMS Dolphin, Gosport, Hampshire) in April 1942. They immediately began training in the diving tank with DSEA (Davis Submarine Escape Apparatus). 


Review. 

On Page 18 the author tells how the day finally dawns when they went to Horsea Loch, situated in a deserted corner of Portsmouth harbour - 'a sheltered stretch of water, trough-shaped, to a depth of 30 feet'.  I always called this Horsea Island.  It was from all appearances an island containing what was described to me as a torpedo testing lake about a mile long.  I did my first Royal Navy diving course there in 1959, or was it 1958 during a very cold November using oxygen re-breathing equipment.  It was still very similar to the diagram (sketch) of human torpedo oxygen breathing apparatus shown on Page 21 of the book, except that our sets did not have such an endurance of 9 hours. 

There were other things at Horsea, but perhaps the Official Secrets Act still applies. 

The Royal Navy had dived on 'closed-circuit' oxygen for obvious reasons, because oxygen was re-breathed via a container of CO2 absorbents, it gave off no bubbles.  It did of course present problems. 

A) Sometimes when going onto pure oxygen you tend to have a black-out.

B) You cannot dive below 33 feet because if you do you may get oxygen poisoning because the partial pressure of oxygen falls below one atmosphere.

C). If water got into the sodalime CO2 absorbent you could get an alkaline burn.  We always carried vinegar in diving boats for that reason.  The absorbent had to be changed after every dive. The Admiralty instruction had been distributed in 1934:

'The C02 absorbent granules must be renewed after use when the set is laid aside prior to further practice.  Re­member that breath on the granules starts the chemical reaction, which continues after breathing ceases, so that in a very short time all the granules are -useless.  So remember that if you do breathe on the granules and leave them you might not be the one to wear that set in a case of emerg­ency . . . you therefore might, perhaps, commit murder.'

This then is the story of these men.  Not necessarily what you might think, but at first, RNVR officers, two Army officers, and 31 Ratings including such trades as cooks, signalmen, and stokers in additional to the Seamen branch. 

I was twelve when this book was first published and a Royal Marine Cadet at Eastney.  It was these men and the SBS that inspired me to join the Royal Navy with the specific objective to become a diver. 

It was at Horsea the first casualty occurred.  Lt PCA Browning failed to surface and helmet divers later recovered his body.

This book takes us through the whole war as chariots and X-Craft operate against targets at Altenfjord, Trondhjem, Askvoll, Bergen, Normandy, Spezia, Palermo, Sicily beaches, Tripoli, Hong Kong, Saigon, Phuket and Singapore. 

Thirty-nine officers and men lost their lives, and are listed in Appendix 3.  Appendix 2 lists all awards viz VC-4, CBE-3, DFO-11, OBE-1, MBE-10, DFC-17, CGM-6, DSM-12 and BEM-4 - a total of 68, plus 100 Mentioned in Despatches.  However, referring to LS Magennis the citation says this:-

'A lesser man would have been content to place a few limpets and then to return to the craft.  Magennis, however, persisted until he had placed his full outfit before returning to the craft, in an exhausted condition.  Magennis displayed very great courage and devotion to duty and complete disregard for his own safety.'

Diving is dangerous, diving on oxygen is even more dangerous and in wartime there are of course other factors to take account of, not the least that you cannot afford to be seen.

 A review cannot do justice to these ordinary men who did extraordinary deeds.  You will need to read the book to learn of their training, the 'Sladen Suit', what oxygen re-breathing is like, cold hands, silk underwear, Midget Submarines described in full with all their operations, good men lost, vessels lost and finally paying off.

Perhaps it is fitting to close with the words of the world's greatest ­ever submariner, Admiral Sir Max K. Horton, G.C.B., D.S.O., spoken in reply to the toast of "The Guests" at the First Reunion Dinner of the Twelfth Submarine Flotilla Association:

'I can only say that the one object these people set out to achieve in the first place was to see that the Tirpitz would never endanger us at sea again, particularly up there where the Russian convoys had to go.  She never did.  She was immobilized.  And these people were responsible.  Similarly, their other operations showed the same singleness of purpose, were almost equally ambitious of concept, and achieved the same out-standing success.  One can only say:  Well done!'

I know any ex-Royal Naval diver or submariner will enjoy this book.  However perhaps it is now time for a new generation to get some idea of what these early pioneers did.

Rob Jerrard



HMS Fearless

Edition: 1st

Author: Ewen Southby-Tailyour

ISBN: 1844150542

Publishers: Pen & Sword

Price £25

Publication Date:

Publisher’s Title Information


HMS Fearless was commissioned in 1965 as the first of two assault ships.  She combined in one hull a tank landing ship, a troop transport and an amphibious command ship. Over nearly four decades she proved expert in all of these roles plus acting as a floating 10 Downing Street (for Prime Minister Harold Wilson's talks with Ian Smith of Southern Rhodesia), embassy, exhibition hall and co-ordinating centre of civil aid projects, for which she was awarded The Wilkinson Sword of Peace.

Throughout her life she was intimately involved in Britain's changing foreign policies. Operationally, she landed a force into South Arabia, the ‘tanks’ into Northern Ireland, was the central player during the Falkland's campaign, helped Britain withdraw from Africa and the Middle and Far East and ended her life playing a key role in the initial Afghanistan operations.

She acted as the Dartmouth Training Ship, was at the forefront of Britain's Cold War trials in the Arctic, served on the front-line, along NATO's southern flank, featured in a James Bond film and took part in some 140 operational exercises. Inevitably there were tragedies and a collision and a grounding but her record was, as this superb book shows, exceptional.

When Fearless paid off in 2002 she was, apart from HMS Victory, the oldest ship in commission.  Like Victory, she can justifiably claim to be the most famous and influential ship of her era.  Her story, told here in words and pictures by one who knew her intimately, will be welcomed by all those sailors, marines and soldiers who served in her, and loved her.  Naval historians will also recognise this as a book that demands to be read.


The Author

When he retired from the Royal Marines in 1992 as a Lieutenant-Colonel, Ewen Southby­-Tailyour had served in HMS Fearless under every Commanding Officer.  Duties included command of the 4th Assault Squadron, Arctic trials and the Falklands campaign.  He also served in HMS Anzio, Wizard, Intrepid and Bulwark, USS Mount Whitney, Guadalcanal and Raleigh and FS Arrontanches and the submarine L'Estre. Ashore he commanded a company in 45 Commando and was Operations Officer of 42 Commando.  He fought in the Dhofar war and was awarded the Sultan of Muscat's Bravery Medal in 1968.  He commanded the Falklands Task Force Landing Craft Squadron and was subsequently appointed OBE; later he formed 539 Assault Squadron, Royal Marines.  On retirement he served with the Foreign Office in Serbia and built a gaff cutter for high-latitude exploring: he was elected Yachtsman of the Year for 1982.

His account of the Falklands War, Reasons in Writing, and Blondie, the biography of Lieutenant­Colonel H G Hasler, were recently republished by Pen and Sword.  His most recent book, The Next Moon, describes the life of a SOE agent behind enemy lines.

He and his wife, Patricia, divide their time between a farm in Devon and a house in the French Pyrenees.  They have two children and three grandchildren.


Foreword

By The Lord Carrington, KG. First Lord of the Admiralty: 1959-1963

Secretary of State for Defence: 1970-1974 Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs: 1979-1982

Ewen Southby-Tailyour, with the help of her Commanding Officers, has written a splendid biography of HMS Fearless: her ups, her downs, the excitements and the boredom, coupled with trenchant comments from successive Ships Companies.

It so happens, that when the idea of an Assault Ship of the type of Fearless and Intrepid was being considered, I happened to be First Lord of the Admiralty and I remember well the discussions which led to the eventual commissioning of Fearless.  By the late 50s, the Landing Ship Tanks, which were used during the Second World War, were out of date and obsolete and, incidentally, exceedingly uncomfortable, as I remember when crossing the Channel in June 1944.  From this discussion came Fearless and Intrepid  I have to say that those of us who looked at the drawings, did not think that they were likely to be very beautiful ships, nor were they.  Looking back, it is astonishing to realize that the cost of the ship was only £8 million.  A small yacht is as much as we could expect today, though at that time, their Lordships were aghast at the price.

Fearless never took part in a major war, thanks to the deterrent which NATO posed during the Cold War years but as you will read, there was a good deal of incident in her thirty-seven years, not least, of course, the battle for the Falkland Islands.  At the same time, she was the venue for a number of interesting meetings.  The most significant being to host the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, together with his entourage, during one of the endless discussions with Ian Smith.  The entourage, as you will discover, provided some hilarious moments.

Colonel Southby-Tailyour writes with first-hand knowledge.  This is a fascinating and enjoyable book and more importantly, a valuable piece of Naval history.


Review

HMS Fearless was in commission from 1965 until 2002. She had a long and distinguished career. When she came home at the end of the second commission (1967-1969) I had just left the Royal Navy. However, I drove down from London to Plymouth to meet her and went onboard because my brother was serving in the ship as an Army Sergeant in the Pay Corps (not his fault someone has to join the Army).

This is a very detailed book with many interesting photographs.  I noticed immediately that the contents pages after Chapters 1 and 2 are listed under a Captain’s name, rather than as many books of this type are, in Commissions.  It seems a novel but good idea, since we always remember the Captain’s name, but not necessarily the officers.  This beggars the question, ‘Does the Captain remember you?’  Cynics may say that this depends on how often you appeared at Captain’s defaulters’ table! 

In the Introduction the author states "at the outset I was determined that each Commanding Officer should introduce his own chapter - indeed stamp his mark on 'his' chapter much as he stamped his mark on 'his' time in command: I would then merely add in the linking narratives. It has almost worked out like that with each Commanding Officer setting the scene. Those that asked to see what others had written were refused - that way there would have been too much uniformity - for, surely, no Commanding Officer had ever asked, in advance, how his predecessor had commanded Fearless? For my part, I have made no serious comment on Fearless's 'characters' at any level but have, only occasionally, done so on outsiders and events.

If there has to be a secondary aim, mine has been quite simple: I have wanted to explain how the ship worked, how she was manned and for what purpose. In doing so I hope to have shown how much fun life in Fearless could often be and how stimulating and challenging it certainly was - and, thus, how professionally rewarding."

As an ex-Lion, that is I served in HMS Lion, http://www.rjerrard.co.uk/royalnavy/lionrn/lionrn.htm

I was a little put out by the sub-title ‘The Mighty Lion’ because I thought we had already claimed the title and the Commander’s comment after Lion’s first commission in 1962 that "Lion is the smallest big ship we have ever known" was borne out by my experience when our Captain, John Scotland remembered my name in about 1969 when we met on Liverpool Street Railway Station.  That Lion can trace her lineage back to the Armada of 1588 and she was the Flag Ship of Admiral Sir David Beatty at Jutland, the first ship to open fire and it is doubtful if we Lions will relinquish our possession of the term ‘Mighty’ to a mere Gunboat of 1794!   After all, our motto was "Our Deeds Agree with our Name".

This book is a fine record of a ship that saw much of modern history.  She was commissioned as the first of two assault ships.  HMS Intrepid was the other.  To continue the description given in the introduction she was a combined tank landing ship, a troop transport and an amphibious command ship. Her career spanned nearly four decades.  At one point she was a floating 10 Downing Street (for Prime Minister Harold Wilson's talks with Ian Smith of Southern Rhodesia.)

Throughout her life she was intimately involved in Britain's changing foreign policies. Operationally, she landed a force into South Arabia, the ‘tanks' into Northern Ireland, was the central player during the Falkland's campaign, helped Britain withdraw from Africa and the Middle and Far East and ended her life playing a key role in the initial Afghanistan operations.

She acted as the Dartmouth Training Ship, was at the forefront of Britain's Cold War trials in the Arctic, served on the front-line, along NATO's southern flank, featured in a James Bond film and took part in some 140 operational exercises.  Inevitably there were tragedies and a collision and a grounding, but her record was, as this book shows, exceptional.

When Fearless paid off in 2002 she was, apart from HMS Victory, the oldest ship in commission.  She can justifiably claim to have been an influential ship of her era.

Was she a happy ship?  There are of course those for and against. We find such comments as, ‘Worst draft of my life’.  ‘Happy to see her made into razor blades, just like Albion, another rust bucket.’  ‘Sink it! It's a tub.’ ‘Truly awful ship.’ ‘Cramped rust bucket, long past her sell by date.’ ‘Melt her down for scrap and use the money to buy hats. That's if you can actually melt down rust.’ ‘Heap of rusting scrap. Will be glad to see the day the breakers get the gas cutters on the old heap.’ ‘Served 78-80 very unhappily.’ ‘Worst draft in 27 years. Would like to think I will be shaving with bits of her.’ ‘Drop the nostalgia trip guys it’s only a lump of rusting tin.’ ‘Accommodation dreadful, nothing worked, chronic chain of command, some extremely spiteful individuals in positions of authority.’ ‘When it goes to the bottom, I shall be extremely glad indeed.’

However the author points out that 'It is probably more instructive, though, to read just a fraction of the 500 or so e-mails that offer an opposing view - all from the lower deck:' EG, "She was one hell of a ship, just like a small village, very friendly and lots of pubs."

I enjoyed the book and share some of the memories and I am sure my brother does.  This is certainly a book worth owning and it will take its place in my Maritime Library.

Whether you loved or hated the ship during your Commission I am certain you will wish your grandchildren knew something about a ship you served in.

Rob Jerrard



Seven Seas Nine Lives

A Biography of Captain AWF Sutton CBE DSC & Bar RN

Edition: 1st

Author: Richard Pike

ISBN: 1844153533

Publishers: Pen & Sword Maritime

Price £19.99

Publication Date: 2006


Publisher's Title Information

Captain Alan William Frank Sutton's enthralling biography starts when, as a young midshipman he was in command of a small picket boat returning a potentially mutinous crew to the battle-cruiser HMS Repulse on which he served. The book builds to an amazing and exciting climax which ends in the open cockpit of a Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber during the legendary attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto in November 1940. The Littorio sees us: she opens fire. The flashes of her close-range weapons stab at us. First one, then others - everything opens up along her whole length. We're coming in on her beam; we're in a terrible mass of cross-fire-cruisers, battleships, shore batteries, the lot. The bloody Italians are firing everything apart from major armament. But we're low, too low for the enemy gun-aimers. The place stinks of cordite and incendiaries and burning sulphur. Everywhere is wreathed in smoke - thick, choking, foul stuff. This biography has been written with the full cooperation of Captain Sutton who has given the author fascinating insight into a career of remarkable courage and diversity.


Review

I have to admit that I had to persevere with this book.  Because it is a biography, it is written in a style which makes it hard to concentrate.  It is full of such sentences as, ‘the Midshipman thought’, ‘the Midshipman reflected’, ‘the Midshipman mused’, ‘the Midshipman remembered’ and every so often we are taken off on a different tack whilst the author relates an item from history only to return to our Midshipman again, who later becomes a Lieutenant and joins the Fleet Air Arm.  At chapter 13 when our Midshipman has become a Lieutenant the role is reversed, its title is, ‘discussions with a Midshipman’.

It is however a good story, a story worth telling and one from which I learnt something.

The parts I enjoyed most were Part 1, which is the Midshipman’s view of the Invergordon mutiny and Chapter 19 onwards, which covers Lieutenant (as he was by then) Sutton’s time on HMS Illustrious and the attack on Taranto in which he took part as an observer in a Swordfish and was awarded a DFC. 

The narrative does wander off to explain the Battle of Jutland, but returns to cover very fully a dark stain on a government that cut sailor’s pay by 25% (for an Able Seaman a reduction of a shilling a day).  This was well before my time, but to many old matelots who I drank with in the pubs of my hometown of Portsmouth, it was a time of severe hardship.  The Captain of HMS York had the nerve to suggest that wives should take in washing which received a reply from the rear ‘you fat bastard! How would you like your old woman to crash out dirties’.  We are told that Invergordon was once a Boom Town.  It was a very quiet place when I visited in HMS Lion in 1961.  I always remember a notice displayed outside a shop on a Sunday which read, ‘A bus will pass through here’.  And of course no alcohol on a Sunday.

In one chapter an explanation is given as to how to lash a hammock.  Did Captain Sutton check the Naval Ratings Handbook as I did before explaining it or is his memory better than mine?  I slept in a hammock in my first two ships in 1958, HMS Grafton and HMS Chichester, but I had to check; and he is correct.  How many ex-Boy Seamen and Midshipmen can remember?  Hands up and be honest. 

Lieutenant Sutton was not very impressed with the food in HMS Illustrious, but admits that the officers’ accommodation far exceeded the ratings Mess Decks and yes, he is correct in his assertion that after a tot of rum - 1 /3 rum and 2/3 water anything can be eaten!  I have no complaints about the food in her sister ship Victorious – however that was two decades later after a major re-fit. 

I was disappointed that the narrative finishes on the last page with a quick jump from 1941 to Captain AWF Sutton CBE DSC & Bar retiring in 1964.  All we know of his subsequent career is that he was Commanding Officer of the Royal Naval Air Station Hal Far, Malta.  I would have liked to have known something of his peacetime career.

There cannot be many men still alive who flew in Swordfish, particularly those who took part in the Taranto raid and it is good to have another account of that Operation. 

Rob Jerrard



Nelson the Commander

Edition 2005 (First published 1972)

Author: Geoffrey Bennett

ISBN: 184415307X

Publishers: Pen & Sword Military Classics

Price £9.99

Publication Date: 2005 Paperback

Because 2005 was the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Horatio Nelson, Vice Admiral of the White, Knight of the Bar, Baron and Viscount of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe and Hilborough in the County of Norfolk, Duke of Brontë it was inevitable that I should find myself reviewing many new books on this subject. 

I have reviewed ‘Nelson’s Hero’, ‘Nelson the Admiral’ and ‘Nelson’s Trafalgar Captains and their Battles’, all of which whilst reiterating old facts also examine new material.  New material has been located, much of which came to light with the Nelson Letters Project commissioned by the National Maritime and Royal Naval Museums in which over 1,400 hitherto unpublished letters were located in 35 archives all over the world.

There has also been Sheila Hardy’s study of Lady Nelson, who unlike Nelson’s biographers who portrayed her as a cold and colourless woman, looks at the marriage from Fanny’s point of view and shows us that she was a very loving and supportive wife, who in the end was treated very badly.

Geoffrey Bennett’s ‘Nelson the Commander’ was published in 1972.  In the Acknowledgement dated 1970 he acknowledges the debt he owes to the numerous books already published.  The 45 years since then have added considerably to that list.  We now know more of Nelson the man, Nelson the husband, but what about Nelson the Commander?  

We are told at Page 1 that in 1945 the Labour Government discontinued an annuity of £5,000 a year granted to Nelson’s heirs in perpetuity – this was after the death of the 5th Earl.  The author appears to criticise this.  However it seems a more than reasonable time to have paid a pension.  £5,000 a year for 140 years = £700,000.  Nelson himself understood that Parliament was supreme.  On Page 18 he is quoted as saying, "I must either disobey my orders or disobey Parliament, I determined on the former". 

It isn’t quite so simple now; I wonder what Nelson would make of the next paragraph taken from a Law report?

‘Leaving aside any question as to the primacy of European Community law, which does not arise in this case, Parliament is the supreme law-making body for the United Kingdom and a statute enacted by Parliament which cannot be read under s 3(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 in a way which is compatible with the convention prevails over any provision of the convention or any judgment of the European Court whether the statute was passed before or after the coming into operation on 2 October 2000 of the 1998 Act which incorporated most of the provisions of the convention into United Kingdom law. The sovereignty of Parliament and the supremacy of an Act of Parliament over the convention is recognised and confirmed by s 4(6) of the 1998 Act which provides that a declaration by a court that a provision of a statute is incompatible with a convention right does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of that statutory provision.’

Nelson would have welcomed change.  Last Saturday I flew back to Southampton from the South of France in about ninety minutes.  Since I was reading Geoffrey Bennett’s book, I was wondering what Nelson would have thought?  Even to me it seems amazing reflecting on the 3-4 days sailing time to Gibraltar in my Naval days.

Nelson said, "After cloud comes sunshine".  I am sure he would have been satisfied that his Government paid his family for 140 years as well as all the other rewards his victory at Trafalgar brought. 

On Page 3 the author refers to the legend, that the black neck silk has been part of a Seaman’s uniform for more that a century in perpetual memory.  This legend is easily destroyed by reading Page 60 of the Naval Ratings Handbook BR 1938, 1965 edition, which says

‘Uniform was not introduced into the Royal Navy until comparatively recent times - -.when the need arose, as when boarding the enemy, devices such as coloured scarves or headgear were worn as distinctive emblems.

Up to the middle of the last century sailors did not wear prescribed uniform - -..  It was not until 1851 that detailed uniform regulations for officers and men of the Royal Navy were laid down and the sailor was given a complete issue of kit on joining the Service. Many changes have been made since then, but the main principles remain the same.

The sailor's collar dates from the time of wigs and pigtails, - -.

The scarf, of silk or other good material and of any colour (black included), was part of the sailor's dress long before the days of Nelson, when it was worn as a comforter or a sweat-rag.  It cannot be said, therefore, that it was introduced as mourning for Lord Nelson.  In 1857 the colour was standardized as black and the material as silk.

The bell bottoms of the trousers were originally designed so that the trousers could easily be rolled up to the knee, to prevent them from getting wet when scrubbing decks or in heavy weather.’

The author reminds us on Page 4 that Nelson as a Commander only had one victory over an enemy fleet at sea.  At Copenhagen and the Nile he destroyed ships at anchor.  Also on Page 4 we are reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s phrase, the author says,

"What was there in Nelson, in an age when the Royal Navy thrived on ‘rum, sodomy and the lash’(Rum Bum and Baccy), that turned his captains into a ‘Band of Brothers’, and moved the roughest sailor to tears on hearing of his death"

This of course is another oft-misquoted phrase or should I say that it is an untrue statement often misquoted.

Nelson’s family like many others were able to take advantage of the system to get a child’s name on a ship’s books.  We are told that Nelson was entered on the books of HMS Raisonnable on 27 November 1770.  He didn’t join her until March 1771 when he was twelve years six months, not young by the standards of the day.  The author quotes the case of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Provo Wallis, who was first entered on a ship’s book at the age of four. 

The picture often painted of Nelson is not quite true.  He was a Parson’s son, but his uncle was Comptroller of the Navy, which gave him a better start than many others.

From time to time in the book the author refers to Nelson’s wife Fanny – Frances Herbert Woolward (Nisbet) later known as Frances Herbert Viscountess Nelson, Duchess of Brontë as is inscribed on her tomb at Littleham churchyard, Exmouth, Devon.  Like many male biographers he says such things as “Nelson and Fanny were as fire and water, as a hawk mated to a dove.  There might be love in a physical sense, but there was little intellectual companionship, no spiritual companionship.  His enormous vitality was at odds with her shy, retiring disposition”.  It is fair to say as Dr Colin White says in his Foreword ‘Frances, Lady Nelson – the Life and Times of an Admirable Wife’ by Sheila Hardy.  “Frances Nelson has not been served well by her husband’s biographers, most of whom, of course have been men”.  One reason was that not so many of her letters survived, but her letters to his prize agent Alexander Davidson discovered in 2001 have helped to redress the balance.  Perhaps she should adopt the expressions he used, "after clouds come sunshine".

Apart from the book now being dated it still remains a valuable contribution and a lot can be learnt not only of Nelson, but of the lives of others.  It covers chapters such as ‘Neptune’s cradle 1758 – 1792’,  ‘Ships of the line 1793 – 1796’,  ‘The Fleet in which he Served’ and goes on through his life – it remains a classic and is very well written and finishes with, ‘The legacy’ – to what use good or ill, did the Royal Navy put to the legacy that Nelson bequeathed to it in the two centuries after his death?  Nelson was the kind of Commander who ‘Threw his bonnet over the moon’ to quote Field Marshall Montgomery.  They say he only ever won one battle against a fleet at sea, but at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, who was it that wore (stern to the wind) HMS Captain out of line and passing between Excellent and Diadem cut off the main Spanish Fleet?  Nelson was made a Knight of the Bar, which in fact he wanted.  He didn’t actually want a Baronetcy because he lacked the means to support it.  Even John Jervis knew that Nelson’s quick thinking had won the day.

Many new books have been published since 1970 but this book still stands well with them all.

Rob Jerrard



Admiral Lord St. Vincent Saint Or Tyrant? The Life of Sir John Jervis, Nelson's Patron

Author: James D. G. Davidson

ISBN: 184415 386 X

Publishers: Pen & Sword

Price £19.99

Publication Date: May 2006


Press Release

First modern biography of a major naval figure of the Napoleonic era

This modern biography of John Jervis, who became Admiral of the Fleet Lord St Vincent makes compelling reading.  St Vincent, who was born twenty-three years before Nelson fundamentally influenced the younger man's career despite the two men being very different characters.  Without him, Nelson's genius might have been submerged by professional jealousy or emotional fragility.  It was St Vincent's strategy and preparation which positioned Nelson to win his three famous victories, while St Vincent himself made vital contributions not only to the defeat of Napoleon, but to the well-being of the Royal Navy.

Before Jervis became First Lord of the Admiralty, the Navy had been severely weakened by corruption in the dockyards, nepotism in appointments and the appalling conditions under which the seamen lived and worked.  St Vincent set out to correct this situation and he deserves the profound gratitude of the nation.

This superbly researched and well-written book recounts how this controversial seaman put his duty, as he saw it, before everything else, in defence of his country and for the improvement of the Royal Navy.  It is compelling reading for everyone.

James Davidson served as a naval officer in the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean and Persian Gulf. Present at the Japanese surrender in 1945, he was Assistant Naval Attache in Moscow at the time of Stalin 's Death.


REVIEW

As a St Vincent boy, I eagerly awaited this book once I knew it was due to be published.  For those not ex-Navy, HMS St Vincent, the last to bear the name was the Boys’ Training Establishment in Gosport, Hampshire, which existed from 1927-1968.  We trained there for a year under the watchful eyes of the Officers and Instructors, and of course ‘Old Jarvie’ the figurehead of Earl St Vincent.

The first vessel to bear the name St Vincent was a Line-of-Battle ship of 120 guns launched in 1815, during the lifetime of Earl St Vincent.  It had a distinguished career as a flagship both at home and in the Mediterranean.  In 1862 her active career ended, and from then until 1906 she was a Boys’ Training Ship, lying at a buoy in Portsmouth Harbour.

In 1906 the old ship was broken up at Falmouth after ninety years of service and her figurehead was then transferred to HMS GANGES at Shotley, which had opened the previous year as a Boys' Training Establishment.

From 1906 until 1945 the figurehead stood on a pedestal at the main gate at Shotley.  In 1946 a replica was made for HMS ST VINCENT where it was erected inside the Main Gate.  It was therefore one of the first images seen by a new recruit coming through the gates for the first time.

We attended school every day and lessons included Royal Naval history -the discipline of John Jervis was very much still with us.  They didn’t flog or hang us, but by the standards of the day it was hard for a fifteen year old straight from school.

John Jervis, later Earl St Vincent, like Nelson had an early springboard for entry into the Royal Navy.  As the author puts it both had naval relatives on the maternal side.   On Page 2 we are told his father was a successful barrister.  There does seem to some confusion here, was he a barrister or a solicitor, perhaps in those days the distinction was not so important?  On Page 3 when Jervis was twelve his father was appointed to a position at Greenwich Hospital, which we are told was as a Solicitor; Greenwich had been adopted to accommodate naval pensioners.  This is not quite the picture of a humble background that Jervis would have people believe. 

He said, ‘Having fought my way up to where I now stand, without the smallest pecuniary aid from any one, even when I was a mid, I cannot possibly entertain an opinion that officers of this day, whose half-pay is considerably more than formerly, cannot practise the same necessary economy which marked the character of, My dear Sir, your very sincere and obedient servant, St Vincent.’

He did spend four years as an Able Seaman before being rated Midshipman, but then all youngsters started in a similar vein some being rated Captain’s Servant as a start.  He claimed in later years that his father gave him £20 and that was it.  It seemed to have very much shaped the way he thought and his attitude towards waste and corruption.

In 1758 Lieutenant Jervis was given command of Foudroyant, a prize that had been taken from the French.  His Captain was so impressed with him that he demanded his return as First Lieutenant of Neptune.  He was made Post Captain in 1760 at the age of twenty-five, when he was given command of The Gosport a 34-gun frigate.  Like so many officers he went on half-pay in 1763 at the end of the Seven Year War.  In February 1769 he was appointed to command the 32-gun frigate Alarm, one of the first of a new type of frigates with a copper-sheathed hull, something we had learnt from the French.

Between 1772-1775 Jervis was again on half pay but by 1 September 1775 he was back in command, this time the 80-gun Foudroyant, now the largest two-decker in the Royal Navy and the same ship he had taken to England as a prize in 1758.

In April 1782 he won sufficient prize money to marry his first cousin Martha Parker.  This was a result of an action against the French ship Pégasé and it was interesting because we are told that Jervis took the advice of a Midshipman to alter course opposite to his intentions, albeit he did not acknowledge the Midshipman’s contribution in his report.  He was awarded a Knighthood, the Order of the Bar, the equivalent of the KBE today.

He took the motto ‘Thus’, Thus is a contraction of "Very well Thus," which was the old order to steady a helmsman on his course. The modern order is "Steady".

In 1784 he became MP for North Yarmouth and he spoke in a debate for the first time on 31 May 1785.  His speech included criticism of the custom of promoting youngsters to the rank of Lieutenant without the requisite service at sea. 

He did not support the movement to abolish slavery.  In 1789 he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue, aged fifty-two.  He was promoted Vice Admiral 1 February 1793. 

His finest hour could be said to have arrived at the battle from which he took his title – the Battle of Cape St Vincent.  Opposite Page 101 there is a very good sketch plan of the Fleet in the early stages of the battle on 14 February 1797, which shows exactly how Nelson wore his ship around and passing between Excellent and Diadem cut off the main Spanish Fleet. 

Why the title, Saint or Tyrant?  Perhaps the expression, ‘he did not suffer fools gladly’ would sit well.  He believed that the threat of mutiny depended less upon the personalities of potential mutineers, than upon the skill and humanity of their officers.  But equally he often showed no mercy to those who by the standards of that time, if guilty would and were hung that very day – even on a Sunday.

He certainly would not qualify as a saint by modern standards, not in a society that considers a schoolteacher who smacks a child as a child abuser.  As for the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 (Sexual Offences Act 2003) which allowed buggery between consenting adults – Jervis had four men of the St George hung at 0900 hrs on a Sunday and made their own shipmates do it as the church pennant was hoisted.  History never records the names of all those hung for a variety of reasons.

Following an argument with Sir John Orde, Jervis and St John were both bound over to keep the peace, probably under the Justice of the Peace Act 1361, a very ancient statute.

Presumably if both were Able Seamen and it happened aboard a ship, two more nameless souls would have hanged. 

It is said that St Vincent’s greatest contribution was the discipline he imposed upon being made Commander in Chief Channel Fleet.  He also appreciated that health and good medical care were fundamental to morale and discipline.  He accepted the challenge to ready the fleet and when the time came, ready they were, ready to face the combined Fleet of France and Spain.

From 1801 onwards Jervis battled against corruption, indeed it could be said that he waged war against it.  He advised people to promote on merit and nothing else.  Some of the worst abuse lay within the Royal Dockyards.  He abided by certain principles and adhered to them and advised others to do the same and he had a deep regard for Nelson, in whom he recognised a champion.

Jervis’s last appointment was finally terminated on 24 April 1808.  In retirement he took a general interest in local matters and is reported as being very generous.  He took up the cause of Lady Nelson and referred to Lady Hamilton as “ that infernal bitch”.  He made his last speech to the House of Lords on 23 January 1810.  He died on 14 March 1823 of `excessive weariness and unrest'..  He isn’t buried at St Paul’s or Westminster Abbey, but like another great leader Churchill, near his birthplace.  There is a monument to his memory in St Paul's Cathedral.

The author sums up in his last paragraph thus, ‘Looking back at his career and acknowledging the debt Britannia owed him for his lifelong dedication to protecting her from invasion by Napoleon, there is still a measure of regret on two counts: that Nelson's debt to his patron has not been acknow­ledged, and that St Vincent himself sometimes failed to put merit above prejudice and humanity above discipline’.

Let it be THUS.

Rob Jerrard



The Battle of the Atlantic

Edition: Paperback (Reprint)

Author: MacIntyre, Donald

ISBN: 1844153665

Publishers:  Pen & Sword Military Classics

Price £6.39 ($11.15)

Publication Date: 2006

Publisher’s Title Information

The Battle of the Atlantic - a name coined by Churchill - was the unremitting assault that went on throughout the war on Allied merchant ships that were the lifeline of Great Britain and, from 1941, Russia by aircraft, surface ships but, above all, by the U-boat. Captain Macintyre, who was a distinguished participant in the battle, tells the story with precision and clarity. He describes the measures employed to defeat the amazingly successful 'wolf-pack' tactics of the U-boats, the convoy system and individual convoys, the contribution of the Royal Canadian Navy, the technological advances in radar and asdic, depth charges and aerial support, and does not shirk from describing how desperately close at times was the outcome. Not only does he analyze the strategic issues, above all the importance of the convoy system and of continuous air-cover, he also describes the battle from the viewpoint of the participants themselves. The long drawn-out duel between escort and U-boat is made vivid by quotation from the log-books of some of the ablest escort-commanders and from the combat-reports of the German U-boat ‘aces’. Complementing these eye-witness accounts, nearly 50 unfamiliar photographs, drawn from German as well as British sources, make the courage and endurance of all those who fought in the Atlantic the more immediate.

Review

To a nation used to the thunder of broadsides fired from those glorious wooden ships of battle, often by gunners who could literally look each other in the eye, this is the story of a new warfare.  Today’s broadsides come from the monster battleships slinging shot at each other across distances so great, they may never see each other.  Far different were the battles fought against Hitler’s U-boats in the Atlantic between 1939 and 1945.  MacIntyre takes us inside the U-boats themselves, describes the agonies of allied lives lost and records the eventual successes and victory.

To the unarmed merchant seamen charged with keeping Britain fed and armed, this was a battle fought just as close as in Nelson’s day but without broadsides of their own. Regularly attacked by an enemy they could not see, they continued to volunteer, to sail and to die as merchant ships in their hundreds were sunk.  Dry in its detail, MacIntyre’s account takes us though the growing pains of a navy learning how to cope with the new reality of submarine warfare.

In the early days of the war, the Royal Navy is forced to play catch-up.  As German submarine commanders develop their technique and millions of tons of valuable goods are sent to the bottom, the navy scrambles to counter.  New avoidance maneuvers are tried, submarine hunting becomes a priority, but through those early years, the U-boat packs hold the upper hand.  Britain’s naval history is one full of victories, of successes and of heroism. Much of that enviable record comes from “expecting every man to do his duty.”  The battle of the Atlantic put the Admiralty chiefs and every civilian and naval sailor to the test.  In doing their duty, Captains found new methods to hold off the wolf packs, boffins developed technologies to find the hidden hunters and ordinary seamen fought on.

Eventually the pendulum swung away from the German captains.  As the new convoy escort methods were fine-tuned and better technology sought out and located the U-boats, the list of submarine losses grew.  At the same time, the horrendous loss of merchant ships decreased.  MacIntyre’s research tells us more than mere numbers, it provides us with insights that include individual names of Captains and sailors lost on both sides, making this a very intimate account of the battles.  While we see that pendulum of technique swing from the Germans to the British, we also see a shift from the traditional chivalry of the gentleman combatant to the brutality of Hitler’s regime.

In the beginning of this key element of the Second World War, both sides took great pains to rescue those left floundering in an unkind sea. Prisoners were taken and treated with civility.  Hitler’s edicts changed all that. As their initial supremacy waned, U-boat captains no longer observed the conventions.  Defeated Captains were no longer invited into ward-rooms, swimming sailors were abandoned to the elements and occasionally machine-gunned and self-preservation became all-important.  Sadly, there were many instances of British escort captains forced to leave swimmers to die as they chased off to hunt an attacking U-boat.  This was clearly a new war, one in which the Royal Navy learned by its mistakes, but learn it did – to ultimate success.

Phillip Day



Frigates, Sloops and Brigs

Edition: Paperback (Originally published in two volumes)

Author: James Henderson

ISBN: 1844153010

Publishers: Pen and Sword Military Classics

Price £7.99

Publication Date: 2005

Publisher’s Title Information

Admiral Nelson's most frequent cry was for more frigates. Though not ships of the line these fast and powerful warships were the 'eyes of the fleet'. They enabled admirals to find where the enemy lay and his likely intentions, as well as patrolling vital trade routes and providing information from far-flung colonies. Together with their smaller cousins, the sloops and brigs of the Royal Navy, they performed a vital function. Generally commanded by ambitious young men, these were the ships that could capture enemy prizes and earn their officers and men enough prize-money to set them up for life. The fictional characters Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey hardly surpassed some of the extraordinary deeds of derring-do and tragedy described in these pages. Originally published in two volumes, this book is a bargain for all who want the factual low-down on the Brylcreem Boys of Nelson's navy.

Review

"If I had been censured every time I have run my ship, or fleets under my command, into great danger, I should have long ago been out of the Service and never in the House of Peers". Horatio Nelson

Unwittingly, Nelson wrapped up the successes and failures of all of Britain’s naval history in that simple personal philosophy. If a timid Admiralty had expected our captains to consider caution and preservation more important than getting the job done, we would forever have been a third- rate maritime nation. Instead, men were sent to sea to get a job done, to seize the oceans and to build and protect an empire.

While the great ships of the line received all the glory and their captains the accolades, always in the background setting the battle stage were the other heroes, the frigates, sloops and brigs. These were the swift and sure smaller ships who patrolled and kept the seas British, while the major ships fought their crucial battles and accepted all the credit. Henderson’s Frigates, Sloops and Brigs properly gives us the whole story, describing in amazing detail, the voyages, battles, successes and failures of England’s best.

This volume is a testament not only to the captains and crews of these smaller ships; it is a testament to Henderson’s love of research. The level of detail is remarkable. We can easily imagine ourselves aboard the Shannon as Captain Broke defeated the American Chesapeake. We know the extent of battle damage, to the ships and to the crews on both sides. We even know how many rounds of ammunition were expended. This is the kind of detail that could have been the dry facts of the ordinary historian had Henderson not made it interesting, had he not put us in the midst of the many personal battles of these sea-going heroes.

Nelson also said “No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.” Before they became the masters of ships of the line, all of Britain’s best-known admirals served in smaller ships. They learned their craft, including the audacity and courage to fight right alongside the enemy, no matter the relative size, in the frigates and smaller ships. They believed in their ships and gained a confidence in their crews’ fighting abilities that could only come from a dedication to training. These less well-known heroes honed their skills and ruled the seas more on a ship-to-ship scale than in the fleet-to-fleet battles of the admirals that we glorify with songs, poetry and monuments. In war, these ships were to Nelson and his peers as Richard Sharpe and his riflemen were to Wellington’s army (Bernard Cornwell’s fictional account of the skirmishers who laid the groundwork for the major land battles of the Napoleonic wars).

For lovers of naval history, particularly those who imagine themselves saving the seas for England in those dark days of peril, Frigates, Sloops and Brigs is a must. Henderson pulls no punches as he describes the human frailties of some captains, the inevitable failures of crews not properly trained and the problems of giving command to patronage-appointed officers. It wasn’t all glory and our ships were not always the best or fittest, but Henderson’s research has managed to uncover the cause of every defeat. He also puts the spotlight on those many captains, crews and ships who were never recognized for doing their duty for England.

Phillip Day



Rodney & the Breaking of the Line

Author: Peter Trew

ISBN: 1 84415 143 3

Publishers: Pen & Sword

Price £19.99

Publication Date: 23 February 06


Press Release

George Brydges Rodney, later Admiral Lord Rodney, had anything but a conventional career, as this fascinating biography graphically demonstrates.

His promising early career had run into the sand during the long years of peace following the Seven Years War. When Britain and France found themselves at war again in 1778 as a result of the latter's support for the American colonists, Rodney had exiled himself in France to escape his creditors. It was only due to the generosity of a French nobleman that he was able to return to England.

The main emphasis of this work is on Rodney's final two years of active service as Commander-in­-Chief of the Leeward Islands Station during the closing stages of the American War of Independence. A measure of his dominance at this time can be gauged by the fact that of the twenty-one enemy ships of the line captured or destroyed by the Royal Navy during the whole of that War, Rodney accounted for fifteen. His years of glory culminated in his defeat of the Comte de Grasse's Fleet at the Battle of the Saintes fought off Dominica on 12 April 1782, where he famously broke the French Line.

Despite his undoubted fighting qualities, Rodney was a hard superior and difficult subordinate. His aloof and autocratic character won him few friends and he was also accused of letting his desire for prize money cloud his professional judgement. But there is no question that his prowess inspired others, not least Nelson himself.

Peter Trew served in the Royal Navy, worked in the building industry and was Conservative MP for Dartford. He has written numerous articles for maritime journals and published a book on the Boer War.

The subject matter of the book is as the title indicates a journey through the life and times of George Brydges Rodney (1718 – 1792), Admiral Lord Rodney with discussions and diagrams depicting and examining his battles leading up finally to Saintes 12 April 1782, upon which opinions are divided – did Rodney break the French line by accident or design and if deliberately was it his idea or does the honour lie elsewhere?

In a year when so many books have appeared about Nelson it is perhaps correct to examine the life of a British Admiral who may have influenced him, albeit this is another unresolved question.


Review

We are told that, the esteem in which the Royal Navy held its former Admirals at a particular time can be gleaned from the naming of new ships and it goes without saying that all ex-Navy men will know of HMS Rodney.  Perhaps not so many will recall the Battle Class destroyer HMS Saintes commemorating Rodney’s final and most famous battle.  Other ships names come to mind, HMS St James, St Kitts, Trafalgar, Corunna, and Jutland to name a few.

The chapters on his early life and flag rank prepare you for the main event - his Battles, and it is as well to familiarise yourself with the areas involved by looking at the excellent diagrams and maps beginning with the one on page 31 which, as it were, sets the scene showing where Saintes actually is.  Not many of my generation will know the Caribbean, you needed to be rich or in the Royal Navy to visit such exotic places with such exciting names as, Barbados, St Vincent, St Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Monserrat, Antigua, Nevis, St Kitts, St Eustatis and Barbuda.  It reminds me of my stamp collecting when I was young.  Iles de Saintes is half way up this list going south to north. 

It does not seem that Rodney was popular, at times, he blames all around him when things go wrong, when Admiral Rowley told him that he used his own initiative he was told bluntly "The painful task of thinking belongs to me". 

An example of one of his despatches appears on page 70.  "Aggrieved as Rodney was by the conduct of several officers, he mentioned only one by name in his official despatch of 26 April, namely Captain Robert Carkett of the Stirling, of whom he said:

'Had Captain Carkett, who led the van, properly obeyed my signal for attacking the enemy, and agreeable to the 21st Article of the 21st Additional Fighting Instructions, bore down instantly to the ship at that time abreast of him, instead of leading as he did to the van ship, the action had commenced much sooner, and the fleets engaged in a more compact manner, and the enemy's centre and rear must have been taken or destroyed.

His penultimate paragraph was a stinging rebuke to the defaulters in general:

I cannot conclude without acquainting their Lordships, that the French Admiral, who appeared to me to be a brave and gallant officer, had the honour to be nobly supported during the whole action -'tis with concern inexpressible, mixed with indignation, that the duty I owe my Sovereign and my country obliges me to acquaint your Lordships, that during the action with the French Fleet, on the 17th instant, His Majesty's, the British flag was not properly supported'

There seems to have been many occasions when he blamed others and he cannot have been a popular man.  He particularly seems to have picked on officers who came up from the lower deck.  Rodney finally found himself able to praise his subordinate commanders after the Battle of Saintes.

Did he break the line?  The last chapter, Aftermath discusses this. 

Nelson is reported to have said, 'Rodney broke the line in one point; I will break it in two.  This episode, if correctly reported, provides reasonable evidence that Nelson intended to emulate and to improve on Rodney's tactics of a generation earlier; but to which of Rodney's actions was he referring?

Rodney broke the enemy line in two actions while Commander-in-Chief in the Leeward Islands from 1780 to 1782.  In his biography of Nelson, Captain Mahan assumed that he was refer­ring to the Saintes but that Nelson had got the details wrong: 'Rodney's fleet actually, though accidentally, broke through de Grasse's order in two (if not three) places.’

During the battle the French employed their usual practice of firing high in order to hit masts, spars, sails and rigging, and thus cripple an opposing ship rather than inflict losses on her men.

The lines were so protracted, with Royal Navy and French ships, that it was 9.25 am before Hood's flagship, the Barfleur, fired her guns.  Rodney had backed the Formidable’s topsails to prolong his exchange with the Ville de Paris, and was nearing the last ships of the French centre. Then came a shift in the wind from a steady breeze from east-south-east to light and variable winds from nearer south. This signified a crisis for de Grasse.  His line, fell into confusion; ships fouled each other and fell away to leeward.  A gap opened near the advancing Formidable, which had already been made use of by the Duke.  His commander-in-chief followed him.

The French line was well and truly broken.  Many, including the partisans of Mr John Clerk of Eldin, a Scots amateur writer on naval tactics, would claim credit.

Lord St Vincent, summed the matter up in a few words: 'Rodney passed through the enemy's line by accident, not design, although historians have given him credit for the latter.' If this was the truth, it did not detract from Rodney's achievement, he won the day.

The battle ended French and Spanish hopes of capturing Jamaica from the British. Rodney was created a peer with £2000 a year settled on the title in perpetuity for this victory.

The two big controversies of the battle can be summed up as:-

Firstly, Rodney’s failure to follow up the victory by a pursuit was much criticised.  Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood said that the 20 French ships would have been captured had the commander-in-chief chased. On the 17th Hood was sent in pursuit of the enemy and he captured two of the line in the Mona Passage.

Secondly, the tactic of "breaking the line", in which the Royal Navy ships passed though a gap in the French line, engaging the enemy from leeward and throwing them into disorder.

Rodney does not lie in West­minster Abbey or St Paul's, but in a modest Hampshire church at Old Alresford. 

Rob Jerrard



HMS Victory Warships of the Royal Navy

Author: Iain Ballantyne & Jonathan Eastland

ISBN: 1844152936

Publishers: Pen & Sword

Price £19,99

Publication Date: 2005

The book begins with six pages of nautical terminology, which for any reader not familiar with naval terms is good.  Another method is to incorporate it into the text as on Page 2 where we have the term, ‘warping out’ which is explained with a small sketch.  We are an island nation and often use terms without knowing the true meaning eg only yesterday my wife, referring to the traffic said it was 'chock a block' which made sense seeing that it is the same as 'two blocks', viz ‘when the lower block of the tackle is run close up to the upper one, you can hoist no higher, the blocks being together’.  See 'The Sailors Word Book', Conway Maritime Press, Page 184.

Before we reach the current HMS Victory at Chapter 3 onwards, the author discusses the previous ships that bore the name taking us back 416 years to 1588 and sailors of Victory 'warping out' due to a lack of wind because the Golden Hind had brought news of the Armada off The Lizard.

The current Victory was laid down in the dockyard at Chatham on 23 July 1759 and floated up 7 May 1765 and is the seventh ship to carry the name.  Chapter 3 gives us her vital statistics viz 36 sails, 4 acres of canvas, capable of 6 knots at a cost of £63,176.

A ship familiar to many of us native to Portsmouth is Foudroyant: There is an interesting photograph of her on Page 40 taken in Southampton’s No 5 dock in the 70’s.  We know of course that this is not Nelson’s Foudroyant.  From 8 June 1799 to 28 June 1800 he was her Admiral.  The ship shown at Page 40 is the Trincomalee now back in Hartlepool under her original name.  For a long period of my youth she was a familiar sight afloat in Portsmouth harbour.

On Page 67 we meet Gunner Rivers and his son William aged 7, injured assisting his father in the year 1795.  We follow their story throughout the book with Victory at Trafalgar and beyond into their twilight years as they struggle to exist in the harsh times before the Welfare State and automatic pensions.  It certainly takes some believing that William ‘volunteered’ aged 5 years.  He was born in Portsea in 1788 and joined Victory in 1793.  I would like to see a complete book about the Rivers family, but all we have is the collection at the Royal Naval Museum (RNM) 1998, 41. 

This is an aspect of the book that makes it all the more readable.  We consider the lives of some of the ordinary officers and men who manned these ships without whom none of these victories would have been possible. 

On Page 71 Chapter 5 we meet a familiar man, certainly to those of us who started our careers at HMS ST Vincent.  The name stands out, ‘I did what I could to keep them in order, but a fleet is a difficult thing to manage” Admiral of the Fleet, Earl St Vincent, Sir John Jervis, Nelson’s Mediterranean mentor. 

Victory's gunner, William Rivers, mailed a heartfelt plea to their Lords of the Admiralty. Victory, Chatham Nov 12 1797

"My Lords,

I humbly hope you will not be offended at the liberty I take in addressing this letter to your Lordships on behalf of my son who at present belongs to His Majesty's Ship Victory, of which I am Gunner. He is only at this time 9 years and half old notwithstanding he has been previously at sea three years and half but under my own care and protection. He was rated midshipman on 23 February by favour of Captain Grey on consideration of my large family and long services in His Majesty's Navy. He is at present too young to take care of himself and in want of a proper education to qualify him for a sea life for which he is intended, as well as two more of my sons still younger than himself.

I hope your Lordships will have no objections to grant an order to discharge him at present from the Service that he may be put to a Maritime School for two or three years and not be turned over with the Ships Company, to a strange ship where it is not on my power to follow him. His name is William Rivers".

We learn that when the Rivers father and son left her.  When commissioned into service once more, she would welcome back old friends, not only Horatio Nelson, but also Rivers the Gunner and his young son, by then a teenage midshipman. All three would fight aboard Victory in the greatest sea battle in history, in which one of them would lose a leg and one would be killed.

Glory always has its price.

You do meet others - AB Benjamin Stephenson, RM Musician John Whick, Lt Lewis Roteley who all come into the narrative as our story unfolds.  Many of our characters went to sea far younger than Nelson eg St Vincent was aged 10. 

There is an excellent photograph on Page 103 of HMS Martin.  She was a brig, of 503 tons, one of five used by the Royal Navy for training boys out of harbour.  Built in 1890, the Martin and others were swept away in Lord Fisher's scientific naval training programme.  Martin was similar to essential eighteenth century brigs and sloops, but carried less sail on shorter yards.

On Page 84 there is a photograph of HMS St Vincent, which really shows what a magnificent ship she really was with 120 guns and 4673 tons was bigger than Victory.

The caption says, "The Battle of Cape St Vincent cast a long shadow. Not only was Jervis made the Earl of St Vincent, a warship was, in time, named for both him and the battle. HMS St Vinccat (120 guns) is pictured here airing sails off Gosport, one of the largest first rates built in England, laid down at Devonport in 1810 and launched in 1815. Significantly larger than HMS Victory at 4,672 tons, she was first commissioned in 1831, almost wrecked off Malta in 1834 and took part in the Baltic campaign of 1854 before coming to Portsmouth in 1862, where she was used as a training ship, until broken up by Castles of Millbank, London in 1906."

‘Casts a long shadow’ is certainly apt for us St Vincent boys; even in our old age we remember a tough year of training.  How must it have been for the boys who started on an old sailing ship moored off Gosport?

Merton Place, the home which Nelson purchased for Emma, her husband and Nelson’s baby cost £9,000 (£550,000 in today’s money).  This ménage a trois did not go down with St Vincent, who regarded Emma as ‘a diabolical bitch’.

I have a book called, Emma Hamilton by Norah Lofts.  Inside somebody has pasted a newspaper cutting dated, July 1979, it reads:

“£45,500 for Lady Hamilton notes

Two working manuscripts for "begging letters" written by Emma, Lady Hamilton, to the Prince Regent and the Prime Minister, Lord Liver­pool, asking for money- in return for her services to the nation, sold for £45,500 at Sotheby's in London.

The mistress of Lord Nel­son claims indirect credit for the fleet's victory at the Nile in 1798, for convincing Nelson to attack at Copenhagen three years later-and for persuad­ing him to take command of the fleet for his most famous victory: Trafalgar in 1805.

It’s hard to be humble.  This book is superbly illustrated, well researched and very enjoyable.

Rob Jerrard



Naval Battles of the First World War

Author: Geoffrey Bennett

ISBN: 0850529891

Publishers: Pen & Sword

Price £7.99 RRP UK

Publication Date:

In his other Book "Naval Battles of the Second World War". Captain Bennett discusses the traumatic effects of the Washington and London Naval Treaties on the fleets of the principal powers between the wars, and their astonishing growth and technical progress between 1939 and 1945. He then deals with the war in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The Battle of the River Plate, the struggle for Narvik, the hunt for the Bismarck, the destruction of the Italian Fleet at Taranto and Matapan are all vividly described and authoritatively analysed. The below book is on the First World War

Review

Every Briton of a certain age and all of us who ever served in the senior service have spent a good deal of our lives hearing the stories of the Royal Navy’s glories.  We came to know that, for the best part of at least 500 years, "Britannia Ruled the Waves".  We grew up admiring Drake’s disdain for danger, Raleigh’s cunning, Nelson’s heroism and Beatty’s panache.  We dreamed of being one of those heroes; coolly making the Spanish wait for their destruction, calmly sailing into the French guns or driving through the German High Seas Fleet to victory at Jutland.

We celebrated the victories, forgot the failures and ignored the frailties of those very human admirals we set up on their pedestals for posterity.  In his account of the British/German encounters from 1914 to 1918, Geoffrey Bennett gives us an account of the many battles of that war, 'warts and all'.  That his bibliography takes up a full three pages is an indication of the research needed to present these important battles in such detail.  That depth of enquiry could not help but uncover the good and the bad, the mistakes and successes and both the sun and the rain of good and bad fortune.

This is the story behind the victories.  It is not just a full account of the actual battles, it is our first look at the evolution from traditional to modern tactics in naval warfare. We see an Admiralty struggling to make that change while their captains wavered between the traditions of Nelson and the opportunities of the moment.  This was certainly the last war of chivalry, of enemies who respected each other and treated prisoners like gentlemen. It was also a time when high casualties lists were taken in stride – for the glory of England.

We know the names and we glorify them - Churchill, Jellicoe and Beatty; those in high places who continued Britain’s glorious tradition at sea, putting them on pedestals as the nation heard of their successes and preserving their memories for all time.  Bennett’s research lets us also see into the lives, successes and failures of the supporting players. We hear about the unsung captains and crews who gave their all for the country and he doesn’t ignore the common ratings as we read about their heroic efforts to ensure success.  Bennett saw a victory as much a triumph for the British ships’ engine room and boiler room crews as for those who manned their turrets.

In an account presented from both sides, Bennett doesn’t ignore the successes, failures and frailties of the Germans.  We read about names almost as famous as our own heroes. Scheer, Hipper and Graf Spee are shown to be real people, not just battleships of the second great war. He shows these German admirals making mistakes in concert with the mistakes on the British side.  The Kaiser’s ratings suffered and died in their thousands during the battles along with our own.  They even stopped to rescue British sailors from death in the sea as our ships did.  Bennett’s look below the surface of these battles shows these warriors to be little different from our own.

For the student of naval tradition and history, this book is a must.  It explores the causes, the luck, the coincidence and the humanity of success and failure that are so often missing from the legends deliberately designed to bolster a nation’s pride.

Phillip Day



Execution For Duty The Life Trial & Murder of a U-boat Captain

Author: Peter C. Hansen

ISBN: 1 84415 322 3

Publishers: Pen & Sword

Price £19.99

Publication Date: 15th Dec 2005

Press Release

This is the true story of the life of a young U-boat captain. It reveals the harsh cruelty and political intrigue that surrounded Hitler's Reich and pinpoints the devious machinations of those Nazis who had infiltrated the power-base of the Kriegsmarine in 1944.

Oskar Heinz Kusch was born on 6 April 1918 and joined the German Navy on 3 April 1937. He worked his way successfully through naval college and eventually volunteered for duty in U-boats. During this period in World War II, the underwater service was causing havoc to Allied shipping in the Atlantic and was highly regarded as the elite force of the German navy. It was at this time that he learned his trade, sailing on long operational voyages that often lasted for several months. He had an exemplary service record that was confirmed by all the skippers under whom he had served. Eventually he gained his own command in the 2nd U-boat Flotilla.

Before his second operational voyage as Captain, three new junior officers joined the submarine. These replacements were confirmed Nazi believers and were not popular aboard, constantly praising all the heroes of the Reich and never conceding that the demise of the U-boat was approaching because of the increased use of more sophisticated radar techniques used by Allied aircraft and ships. The voyage happened to be unsuccessful in terms of Allied ships sunk and unbeknown to Kusch the three hatched a plan to dishonour their Captain and accuse him of treason.

The resulting trial was corrupt and rigged. No latitude was given from higher authorities and no account of his previous unblemished career was taken into consideration.

We are told by the author that during WW2 whenever submarines met unexpectedly at sea, generally in the darkness, a courtesy greeting system had soon developed, using a mixed language Morse code.  The Germans signalled the letters: G-M-Y, standing for: Gott Mit You, meaning: 'God (be) With You'. The British responded with: M-Y-T, standing for: Mit You Too, meaning: 'With You Too', while passing each other and at times even waving their hats.

According to the author these unofficial greeting signals swiftly became known to submariners all over the world and in all navies and are still used customarily today.

I must admit I have never come across this before.

This reminds me of a TV programme in which a WW1 Tommy told of the German's shouting across the trenches, 'Gott Mit You' to which their response was, ' We've got mittens too'

I am not so sure that mutual respect existed between the Royal Navy and U-Boats, after all, "Today Germany, Tomorrow the World", these U-boats were pitched against a Navy determined to defeat an evil enemy for the second time in twenty years.  For a long time it looked as if they would starve us out in these Islands.

The author wants us to understand the events we will read about, therefore some advance information is essential.

He states that when you hear and read the war propaganda releases of all countries, it is quite evident that your soldiers are always the shining white knights on even whiter horses, while the enemy forces are nothing but murderers, gang­sters, robbers and ugly hostiles with black hats and even blacker hearts.

I think to many; "murderers, gangsters, robbers and ugly hostiles with black hats and even blacker hearts", would sum up how people felt about the Germans.

He claims that, in reality, most soldiers were drafted men, with a sprinkling of volunteers and a handful of long-term professionals, who were in uniform because they did not have much choice in the matter and simply tried to make the best of it, hoping to survive.  Yes, we have to accept that may have applied to a small percentage, it certainly did not apply to the Hitler Youth.

He then states that during the Second World War submariners were seen as a rather special breed of man in many ways, a kind of elite group of sailors. The American and British were nothing but daring heroes, while the German U-boat men were supposed to be nothing but pirates, killers and murderers.

The author claims it was somewhat different and less black and white. A total of 40,800 men undertook U-boat training, but 30,226 did not return from the seas.  Another 5,038 became prisoners of war until 5 May 1945.

The U-boat Command was assisted and supported by a further 10,900 men in various shore locations. They worked in administrative offices, as drivers, as guards and watchmen, as kitchen helpers or inventory control clerks. Others were permanently used as training and school instructors, as communications clerks, working in the naval mail and censorship depart­ment or in transportation and shipping units. Finally, there were the naval military courts with many clerks and the naval judge advocates. All of these men were considered part of the U-boat Command, but they never under­took U-boat training, and many of them were physically unqualified to serve on U-boats in any position.

John Milton wrote, "They also serve who only stand and wait".  What the author doesn't say is why?  Why did 30,226 not return from the sea?  The answer is because the armed forces of this county and is particular the Royal Navy supported by the RAF fought a long bitter battle out in the cold Atlantic, the "Cruel Sea" as one author called it.  The object of that battle was to make sure they did not return.

I was interested to learn that between 1939 and 1945, more than 22,000 German soldiers, sailors and airmen were condemned to death by military courts and actually executed. This number equals two full-strength infantry divisions. Another 29,000 soldiers of all service branches were condemned to death by these same military courts, but their death sentences were commuted to lesser penalties or to probation in one of the numerous penal companies, or to service with one of the special bomb or mine defusing and clearing squads. While they were granted reconsideration of their death sentences, only about twenty per cent of those reprieved men returned alive from their probationary assignments, quite a few as cripples: a questionable kind of mercy.

In comparison, the British executed 317 soldiers during the war, most of them for serious criminal offences like murder, including quite a few men from the various countries of the Empire. The United States of America shot one single soldier in Europe, Private Eddie Slovik. But he was posthumously re­habilitated, while all others condemned to death were pardoned and received commuted prison terms.

In addition to these military courts, the Nazi Party functionaries set up a complete new chain of Party courts for civilians, with hard-nosed Nazis as judges and prosecutors for the German population at the 'home front', to keep these folk under tight control. These convinced and fanatical satraps of Martin Bormann constantly grabbed more power and were increasingly given more direct help by the state's secret police, the Gestapo.

These Nazi Party courts were called 'Brown courts' by the German population, and they condemned another 12,000 German civilians to death, ninety per cent by decapitation or hanging. Frequently this was for the smallest infractions of wartime regulations and special Nazi laws and prohibitions, like tuning in to foreign radio stations such as the BBC, the neutral Swiss or Swedish stations or the Voice of America.

In an atmosphere of increasing mistrust, fear and danger the German population was exhorted to report to the Gestapo anybody who might be suspected of almost anything, telling those people hesitant to denounce others that it was the obligation of every German citizen, male of female, to help to strengthen German determination and the will to win the war.

What kind of Regime would execute 22,000 of its own men and condemn to death another 29,000 who were forced to work in penal Companies?

This is a book which should be read because it tries to explain away some of the evil of the men who did these things.  I have always been puzzled that former German servicemen, do not admit were Nazis Party members.  What happened to them all?   It was the German people who did these things; we cannot place it to one side and say it was all the Nazis.  I have watched many films showing thousands of people cheering at mass rallies.  If you asked in Britain, 'hands up all those who belong to the Labour Party', you would get something near the correct percentage admitting their allegiance, but what happened to all the Nazis, did only non-party members survive?

Books like this should not be allowed to try to remove the guilt the German people must bear for turning the whole world upside down, "Today Germany- Tomorrow the World", NO, Millions died to say NO.

At this point I had finished my review.  I sat and gave it some thought and put it temporarily to one side and quite by chance purchased two books at the local Flea Market.  They are 'Court Martial' by Alastair Mars who commanded British submarines in WWII.  The other is 'U-Boat 977' by Heinz Schaeffer.  The Forward to the second book caught my eye; it is by Nicholas Monsarrat and even though it was written in 1952 I want to quote from it.  It proves the mood of that time of a man who fought the U-boats.  To the memory of all of the men who did likewise let it stand.  I quote part of his words.  He said,

"If U-boat 977 were not two things-a readable book, and an engrossing piece of war history-I would not touch it with a depth-charge.

This point is made at the outset, because I do not wish to figure as an apologist for any part of Germany's war effort. There have been far too many post-war books, films, and plays written to expound the thesis that the Germans, though misguided and misled, were in the main honest manly types who fought the good fight like any Christian soldier; I do not want to run the risk of seeming to belong to this gang.

You will recall a remarkable discovery we made when we conquered Germany-that there were actually no Nazis there at all, just millions of "decent Germans" suffering terribly because of the awful things they'd been made to do by other people. You will recall a general readiness to welcome the Germans as good chaps who just went off the rails for a bit, fellow club-members after all.

I do not want to belong to that gang either.

For Nazi Germany was not a nation of honest dupes and simple soldiers: they knew, all of them, exactly what they wanted, and they were prepared to go to any lengths to get it. Until they were beaten (when all colours change over-night) they were total enthusiasts for world-domination, whole-hearted agents of a hideous tyranny which, if not finally checked, would have brought the curtain down on human freedom for generations to come.

It was, in fact, all a frightful mistake. But twice in this century it has been a mistake: twice these people, and no other, have engulfed the world in misery and bloodshed, in pursuit of their dream of power.

Among the worst of these willing servants of world enslavement were the men serving in German U-boats: which brings us to this book.

No one save a power maniac, a sadist, or a nautical romantic can hold any brief for submarine warfare. It is a repellent form of human behaviour, whether practised by ourselves or by the Germans; it is cruel, treacherous, and revolting, under any flag.

In writing a foreword to such a book, I am not acting on any forgive­and-forget principle; the author, and men like him, were trying to kill me and my friends for five years on end in the Battle of the Atlantic, and I loathed and feared them for it, and I loathe them still. But it is right that, when the fight is over and the U-boats defeated, we should try to learn something of the other side of the picture: that we should know what it was like at the opposite end of the periscope, that we should understand what made these men tick­and, in ticking, kill.

For me, the highlight of this book is a small incident in the early part of it, which describes the sinking of a tanker.

She was sunk in the North Atlantic, breaking in two in wild weather. There was, of course, no warning given; simply the sighting, the stalking, the hand on the trigger, the sweet moment of murder. When it was all over, the author tells us, when the survivors had been left to die, and the wrecked ship extinguished by the sea, "we put on some gramophone records, and hear the old songs that remind us of home".

The book includes also, to make us burst into tears, a sigh for something which other U-boats, failing to reach the Argentine, apparently looked for in vain: a 'decent respect for the defeated'."

Ah, Germany!

He concluded by saying, 'but read it for yourselves'.  That applies to this book just as much.

I belong to Nicholas Monsarrat's gang, and having been forced to fight twice: we won.

Rob Jerrard



HMS Victory

Edition: 1st

Authors: Iain Ballantyne & Jonathan Eastland

ISBN: 1844152936

Publishers: Pen & Sword

Price £19.99

Publication Date: 2005

Publisher’s Information.

There is no more illustrious warship name in British naval history than HMS Victory, which is inextricably linked with Admiral Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar. This fascinating book, the latest in the Famous Warships of the Royal Navy series, celebrates all three at a most appropriate moment - the 200th anniversary of Nelson's greatest triumph and his death in HMS Victory.

What is less well known is that six warships before Nelson's carried the name Victory, the first being Sir John Hawkins' during the Battle of the Armada in 1588. All manner of maritime life is included in this book, from piracy in the Azores to gentlemanly encounters between fleets as well as the battle of annihilation that was Trafalgar. The full horror, majesty and thunder of naval warfare in the age of fighting sail are revealed through the first­hand accounts of those who were there. The post-Trafalgar career of Victory is studied, continuing to the present, for she is still in commission, as Flagship of the Second Sea Lord.

Superbly illustrated, well researched and written by two leading maritime experts, HMS Victory will be enjoyed by all those for whom naval heritage and the'Immortal Memory' of Nelson, his ship and achievements hold a fascination.


HMS VICTORY Battle Honours

Armada 1588, Dover 1652, Portland 1653, Gabbard 1653, Scheveningen 1653, Four Days' Battle 1666, Orfordness 1666, Sole Bay 1672, Schooneveld 1673, Texel 1673, Barfleur 1692, Ushant 1781, St Vincent 1797, Trafalgar 1805.


Foreword by Second Sea Lord & Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command Vice Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent KCB CBE ADC

HMS Victory is the only preserved warship of her age, and while her battle honours fascinate historians and visitors, her importance resonates beyond the timbers and the gun decks. The spirit of HMS Victory, which is almost tangible to many who set foot on her, represents the living heart of the Royal Navy and the people who have served in it.

HMS Victory is associated forever in our minds with one man, Admiral Nelson, and with one day, 21 October 1805, on which the Battle of Trafalgar delivered the knockout blow to Napoleons dreams of invasion. Trafalgar was dramatic; it speaks to us of pain and duty, heroism and death. But Trafalgar was the culmination of years of careful, repetitive preparation and training. Although the battle was won in a single day, the seeds of Nelson's victory were planted and nurtured in the long years before.

For years before Trafalgar the British Navy had blockaded the enemy's ports across the coast of Europe. With dogged persistence the sailors in the Fleet endured day after day, month after month, of a tedious stand-off, waiting for the enemy to come and engage in a battle that would bring things to a close.

Day after day the men had to repair their own ships, find their own provisions, cure their own sick, and make their own entertainment. Keeping the fleet at sea for so long - and for two years during the blockade Nelson never set foot off Victory - was an unparalleled feat of seamanship and logistics.

Of the 800 or so men in HMS Victory in 1805, the average age was twenty-two (the same as a modern warship) and while more than half were English, they came from almost every country in Europe, including France, and also India, Africa and the Caribbean. Many were volunteers, but up to half were pressed men or convicts sent to the Fleet as punishment. The myths persist of half-starved sailors fed on maggoty biscuits and beaten to within an inch of their lives, but in truth no ship's company could have been flogged into physical fitness and good morale.

How the Navy kept these men from different backgrounds healthy, fed, trained and unified into a fighting team was a miracle of leadership, embodied in Nelson himself. Nelson loved his sailors and took infinite pains to keep them as healthy and happy as conditions and tight discipline allowed. He cared about their diet, varied their training, and even altered his cruising to give them new scenes to look at.

The Battle of Trafalgar was such a decisive victory that it is easy to forget how hazardous Nelson's master plan was. The British Navy was outnumbered 33-27 by the French and Spanish and Nelson exposed his ships to devastating broadsides as they slowly approached the enemy line head on. Only an Admiral supremely confident of his men's abilities and able to transmit his confidence could have carried it off.

HMS Victory is still in commission, and every warship salutes her as they pass her berth in Portsmouth Naval Base. Our modern ships have capabilities unimaginable to Nelson, but I believe that the values and traditions, which won Trafalgar and kept our country free are still embodied in the men and women of the Royal Navy.

All of this keeps HMS Victory and the spirit of Admiral Nelson alive in the modern Royal Navy.

He was the master of 'mission command' and that is how we command today. He was the master of genuine and heartfelt care for his sailors and that is what we strive to do today. He was the master strategist and tactician - just as all commanding officers and admirals have to be today.

Horatio Nelson, through his remarkable professional example, is a guide, mentor and tutor to all of us in leadership roles in the Royal Navy of today. Beyond the Royal Navy, there is much to be learned from Nelsons leadership methods.

I hope, as the story unfolds on the following pages, you will be inspired by the experiences of the people who lived, fought and died in this immortal ship. It was their skill, courage and determination that made the name HMS Victory a legend.

HMS Victory September 2005.


Authors’ Introduction

On hearing we were to write a book on HMS Victory, a colleague wondered how this might be done without merely repeating what was already well known.

In the 200 years since 1805, dozens of works on the Napoleonic era, Trafalgar and Horatio Nelson have been published. The topic is enduringly popular and likely to remain so. On the ship HMS Victory, several books exist but the last to employ a similar approach to telling the story of the ship's fighting life was published almost half a century ago. Other volumes have considered the ship mainly from a technical point of view or have deployed statistics as a means of grappling with Victory's epic tale.

While this book is primarily the story of the current HMS Victory, first commissioned in 1778, we felt it was important to establish her sense of place in British history by considering all of the Royal Navy ships that have borne the name. They too fought in epic battles, carrying remarkable men to death or glory. Therefore this book is also the story of Hawkins during the Battle of the Armada and Monson during an ill-fated piratical expedition to the Azores. It touches on the early demise of Balchen, whose Victory was lost with all hands, and tells of Myngs, who was shot down on the quarterdeck of an earlier ship of the name.

Nelson's death in Victory at Trafalgar illustrated one of the salient features of war in the Age of Sail: admirals and other senior officers were frequently casualties alongside sailors from the lower deck. A life on the ocean wave was a risky business, whether because of enemy action or due to disease, malnutrition or sheer exhaustion (and in the Age of Sail more sailors' lives were claimed by sickness than by enemy action).

When it comes to the seventh Victory it is amazing how much is unknown, or forgotten, about her story prior to, and after, Trafalgar. We felt it was imperative to look beyond the seemingly incomparable Nelson, to his illustrious predecessors in the seventh Victory. It was from these men that Nelson learned his craft and it was their courage and intelligence that set the standard he intended to exceed. Therefore this book is the story of the charming and audacious Keppel; quick-witted and scientific Kempenfelt; fierce but beloved Howe; tenacious yet courtly Hood and severe, but caring, Jervis. Then there was the diplomatic Saumarez, who came after Nelson, and achieved an important, but largely overlooked, triumph for Britain in the Baltic.

We have also included the stories of men from a lower station in life, such as Gunner William Rivers, who took his five year old son to sea in Victory. The lad was soon wounded in action and more than a decade later, still serving in Victory, would see action at Trafalgar. Then there is poor John Scott, Nelson's secretary, who met a cruel fate and we also meet Royal Marine musician John Whick, grieving for a wife believed lost at sea and feeling ignored by his family back home in England.

The admirals we encounter are not all brave and charming, for Victory's story contains its share of feeble old men and other flag officers who put their personal fears (and ambitions) before the good of their country, or indeed the welfare of the men they commanded. In looking at some familiar events from the perspective of Victory and the men who sailed in her, we have strived, where possible, to present fresh material culled from the archives of leading naval museums which has, until now, been largely overlooked.

Inevitably, the Battle of Trafalgar and Britain's still favourite naval hero, Admiral Lord Nelson, feature prominently. We were keen not to be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the undertaking. The challenges, both from a photographic and a writing point of view, multiplied with each visit to the ship and the nearby Naval Museum. Interviewing Victory's current flag officer, Vice Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent, her Commanding Officer, his sailors and other members of staff emphasized that, far from being an inanimate artefact, the Victory is a living, breathing part of the Royal Navy. In scaling our Everest we have endeavoured to keep the summit in view, shrouded though it occasionally was by clouds of subjective notion; what we sincerely hope, however, is that the contemporary reader will gain a tangible sense of being a witness to events as they unfold. It has been an honour to tell the story of HMS Victory in the year of Trafalgar 200 but we give the final word on the flagship's enduring significance to the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West, who said of her when interviewed for this book:

"I think she should also act as a reminder that the reasons for her being created in the first place still stand, that today and into the future, Britain needs to understand the worth of its Navy and its vital role in securing the nation."